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My life matters: What 2020 looked like to me 

By Cierra Thomas

Alumni News Magazine | Fall/Winter 2020

Cierra Thomas holds a Black Lives Matter t-shirt.

Cierra Thomas is a four-year member of the Reds women’s soccer team. A fullback, she’s played in 43 games over four seasons, starting in 41. In 2020, she earned a bachelor of arts degree (law in society/sociology). Thomas has plans to attend law school and play a fifth and final season of U SPORTS eligibility.

“Where are you from?”

It’s a simple question, one that I’ve heard hundreds of times.

Mostly, it’s asked of me by white people of all ages and gender.

But, it’s almost always a question met with confusion when I answer.

“Canada,” I say.

“No, like what are you?”

“What are you?” Those words ring in my head.

Youthful me never understood why I was constantly being asked that question, but now I understand the question runs deeper than the person asking it may even know.

It’s 2020. We live in an era of incredible advancement, yet, at this moment, I feel as though we’ve egressed, or we’ve reached a  social standstill?

Like so many generations before, we are yet again exposed to the continuous cycle of racism and systemic oppression. It’s a time where I am constantly reminded that my skin colour speaks for me before I’m able to utter a sound. It’s a time when people like me are not safe from discrimination while enjoying public parks, jogs around our neighbourhoods, or the same protection from those sworn to serve and protect us all.

Through all of the years of racial inequality and injustice, we have learned one thing, silence and a lack of action can no longer be tolerated. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “there comes a time where silence is a betrayal.”

So, what am I?

Well, my mother comes from a family that has roots in Europe, and my father’s family is from Jamaica, but I was born here. I’m Canadian.

“No, like what are you?”

Sometimes, when I’m asked that question, I refuse to play along  with the curiosity. I say, simply, “I’m human.”

“No, like what are you?”

There are those who may not, truly, understand why that question is so damaging to me, and to other people of colour.

Despite the generations of black people who’ve called Canada home over the past 400 years, and see themselves as Canadian, I feel a lot of people associate being Canadian as being white.

Growing up here, a person of colour in a sea of white, I was constantly reminded that I was different. Racist jokes, spoken in my presence. Comments about my appearance, and how I “didn’t seem black.” It may not have been the intention of people to inflict pain, but those jokes and comments hurt me. They continue to hurt me.

I remember my 16th birthday.

I had a small gathering of friends at my house. The girls I’d invited were my best friends at the time, the people I spent most of my time with, outside of my family and sport teams.

I’d just blown out the candles on my birthday cake when one of my friends rose and began toasting me.

She praised my athletic, academic, and social qualities, and ended her toast by saying I was “one of the most beautiful black girls” at our school.

The words echoed in my head. My eyes darted to my parents, standing in the room, no doubt betraying my shock and hurt. My mother spoke quickly. “Or, just one of the most beautiful girls.”

I was deflated.

On my birthday, of all days, there it was, again. A reminder that, somehow, I was different. ThatI couldn’t be just beautiful or attractive. That I was only beautiful because I was black. Again, the colour of my skin put me on a different standard.

As had been the case so many times before, confusion soon turned to embarrassment and shame. Fighting back tears, I thanked my friend for her words. Inside ,I reminded myself that I’m not beautiful in spite of my colour, but because of it.

As sweet as some of my 16th birthday was, it was just another moment wrapped in racism.

So, now it’s my turn to ask a question.

What are you going to do about this?

I need, people of colour need, allies.

We need your voices and your empathy.

We need your support, now more than ever.

There are many ways you, as an ally, can contribute to make the world a better place for me and other people  of colour.

You can educate yourself on the history of racism and racial inequity, globally and locally.

You can have the tough conversations with those around you, and make it known that you condemn racism and discrimination in all forms.

You can stop and ask yourself what do you know about race issues? How have you aided them or been complicit?

Look for books, podcasts, documentaries, films, shows, and poetry that can help advance your knowledge of people of colour and the issues we face.

If you’re able, offer financial support  to organizations that support people  of colour.

Check on your black friends and people of colour that you know. Ask them how they’re doing. Recent events have been disturbing, and, for those friends, knowing they’re supported during this time could mean a lot to them.

Ultimately, understand that change  has to start somewhere, and it must begin with us.

For those of you who have begun having those difficult conversations, who have been active participants in bringing awareness to racial inequality, who have reached out to people of colour they know, and have messaged me personally… I want you to know, 

I see you. We see you.

I hear you. We hear you. I commend you. We commend you.

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